From idea to retail merchandizing, it can take what seems like an eternity to bring your new product to life. If your product is a pharmaceutical, it will take over a decade. The reason we have a patent system is to provide the inventor with exclusivity on the idea for a long enough period of time that it can actually make it to a store shelf before a bigger company can steal it and do it faster. Skipping the patent for your idea is one shortcut you most certainly do not want to take.
That said, there are shortcuts that can give you a competitive advantage. Whatever innovation you have conceived, there is an excellent chance that someone else is feverishly working on something similar. Patent or no, it is always a race to market. It may not be everything. But there is definitely some benefit to getting there first. Here are three things you can do to help you capture the flag:
Simplify Your Computing Architecture
There is a good chance your project involves a computer at some level. It may not be the kind that plays solitaire and runs spreadsheets. But almost everything with a plug or a battery is powered by a computer chip. Overcomplicating that computing element can slow your project to a crawl.
But there is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to embedded computing. There are plenty of companies that have this sort of thing already figured out. You can save a lot of time and money by leveraging their expertise, while at the same time, getting a component customized to your needs. One maker of custom computer modules, Kontron, puts it this way:
Computer-on-Modules (COM) are highly integrated computer modules that support system expansion and application-specific customization without the use of cables. When using a Computer-on-Module, customers don’t need to worry about the complex design of the COM, instead freeing them to concentrate on their core business.
With so many Computer-on-Modules and System on a Chip options, there is no reason to spend the lion’s share of your resources developing your own silicon solutions.
Model It Before You Build It
This may seem like an extra step. But I assure you, it isn’t. Often, the difference between producing a good product and a bad one is having the ability to see it before you send it into production. In a piece on innovations that are revolutionizing the manufacturing industry, two dealt with product modeling.
One way to model a product is virtually. Computers are powerful enough to model just about anything with a stunning degree of accuracy. You can test many aspects of the product without manufacturing a single part. You can find out if your design will hold up to heat, pressure, or force without spending a lot of time and money learning it the hard way. You can also use computer modeling to refine the design before you build it.
After you have refined your model, you can just send it to the printer, not the inkjet, the 3D printer. 3D printers are so inexpensive, even average people can buy them just to play around with the possibilities. You can use this very accessible technology to make actual models. That way, you can test things like how the product feels in the hand. That is something that computer models will not be able to convey. But modeling it before you build it, you can save a lot of time and money by getting it right the first time.
Crowd Fund It
Finally, one of the most time consuming aspects of a project is finding the funding. These days, you can use a service like Kickstarter to crowd fund your project in just a few weeks. One of the best reviewed iPad keyboards was started in just that way. A bank may not give you millions to fund your project. But the people who will want to buy your product will do just that. Crowd funding is also a great way to test your product’s market viability.
Letting someone else design the silicon, modeling, and crowd funding are three things that can get your project from idea to retail ahead of the competition.